Several weeks ago, I had the great good fortune of going to Carol Burnett: An Evening of Laughter and Reflection. A signature part of The Carol Burnett Show (1967-1978) was when she would have the stage people “bump up the lights” and she would warm up the crowd before each taping. This stage show was 90 minutes of that kind of thing.
The stage show began with clips from past sessions, projected on a big screen above the stage. The first clip showed an audience member asking Carol for the way to the ladies’ room. So Carol earnestly invited her up and directed her to the ladies’ room backstage. (When she returned, Carol led the audience in the chant “We know where you’ve been – ! We know where you’ve been – !”)
Then, from house left (stage right), Carol herself came onstage into a spotlight – of course, to the melodious strains of “Carol’s Theme (I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together).”
(I'm going to call her "Carol" throughout this retelling. Journalistic remove would require "Ms. Burnett," but that seems too stuffy, and she is very much as much of an old friend one can have through the airwaves.)
The first thing Carol did was a tribute to dear, departed friends Tim Conway, whom we lost just last May, and Harvey Korman, gone since 2008. She told us that Tim made it his mission to “destroy” Harvey. As proof, she showed a bit of that classic sketch “The Dentist.” Not much, maybe 30 seconds – the bit of business with the hypodermic needle full of novocaine – but that was enough to have the whole house in hysterics.
Consider -- we all were watching it at the remove of time and distance, but poor Harvey was sitting right next to Tim during all this tomfoolery. “Tim said he thought Harvey wet his pants,” Carol told us.
She also told of another Tim moment where he destroyed everyone else that had to wind up on the cutting room floor. They were doing a “Mama’s Family” sketch in which the family was playing Charades, and when it was Tim’s turn, he said “elephant.” Tim proceeded to spin a shaggy dog story that had all of them breaking up, that it was actually Siamese twin elephants conjoined at the trunk, and the one elephant got a cold and sneezed and blew the other elephant’s brains out.
Vicki, as Mama, gave the capper, which landed the bit on the outtake reel. (Find it here on YouTube: "Carol Burnett Show Outtakes -- Tim Conway's Elephant Story")
From there, Carol began to take questions. Ushers were stationed around the hall with microphones and flashlights; when she noticed a light, Carol would invite an audience member to speak up and make their query.
She’s been doing this a long time, so there are some questions that must come up over and over, but she didn’t seem to mind telling those stories again and again.
Captain Comics said:
Carol Burnett was part of my routine as a kid when I got old enough to distinguish good TV from the rest of it. It's been a long time, but I seem to remember shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show as contemporaries, all on Thursday night. That was some great television, but I guess everyone says that about the first good TV they experienced.
Actually, those were all on Saturday night*, back when network TV could draw an audience on that day. Part of the draw, of course, was that these were all top-flight shows.
* My handy-dandy copy of The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present (Ninth Edition) tells me The Carol Burnett Show was on Monday nights from 1967-1971, Wednesdays for a single season in 1971-72, and Saturdays for the remainder of its run, 1972-77. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77) and The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78) aired only on Saturdays, although the time slot for each varied over the years.
Lee Houston, Junior said:
For quite a while, Saturday nights were just as good TV wise as any other night of the week, with the three main networks of the day (ABC, CBS, and NBC) seriously competing against each other for viewers and ratings.
Well, as Carol noted above, times are different now. Saturday is now the lowest-rated night of the week, so the networks don't put anything there they have confidence in or want to succeed. It's a self-fulfilling situation, but The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and The Carol Burnett Show didn't have to compete in a 500-channel universe and with the likes of Amazon Prime and other streaming services.